A Long Line of Dead Men (Matthew Scudder Series #12)by Lawrence Block
The newest Matt Scudder novel by the blessedly prolific Block is right up to his usual standards. It takes a while to set up the situation (someone in an exclusive male dinner club that meets once a year is killing off the members at an alarming rate), but once it's established, Matt gets his man by his usual patient attention to detail and sheer doggedness. He almost misses him, however (giving rise to a matchless last line), and the punishment meted out to the villain is a highly unusual variant on the kind Scudder thinks up when the law, as sometimes happens, is helpless to act. His ex-call girl companion, Elaine, is her usual comforting self, and there's a brilliant portrait of an offbeat New York lawyer, obviously modeled on William Kunstler, who specializes in representing the underdog. The scene where the lawyer and suspicious ex-cop Scudder get to know and like each other is alone worth the price of the book. Those who become impatient with Scudder's determined pursuit of AA meetings--and it's possible to do so--should note his publisher's assertion that he now has a strong following not only among mystery buffs but also in "the recovery community."
The New York Times
- Lawrence Block, an imprint of Telemachus Press, LL
- Publication date:
- Matthew Scudder Series, #12
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.86(d)
Read an Excerpt
It must have been around nine o'clock when the old man stood up and tapped his spoon against the bowl of his water glass. Conversations died around him. He waited until he had full silence, then took another long moment to scan the room. He took a small sip of water from the glass he'd been tapping, set it on the table in front of him, and placed his hands palm-down on either side of the glass.
Standing as he did, with his angular frame tilted forward, his thin beak of a nose jutting out, his white hair swept straight back and combed down flat, his pale blue eyes magnified by thick lenses, he put Lewis Hildebrand in mind of a figure carved on the prow of a Viking ship. Some great idealized bird prey, scanning the horizon, seeing for miles and miles, for years and years.
"Gentlemen," he said. "Friends." He paused, and again worked the room's four tables with his eyes. "My brothers," he said.
He let the phrase echo, then leavened the solemnity with a quick smile. "But how could we be brothers? You range in age from twenty-two to thirty-three, while I have somehow contrived to be eighty-five years old. I could be the grandfather of the oldest man here. But tonight you join me as part of something that stretches across years, across centuries. And we shall indeed leave this room as brothers."
Did he pause for a sip of water? Let's suppose that he did. And then he reached into a pocket of his suit jacket and drew out a piece of paper.
"I have something to read to you," he announced. "It won't take long. It's a list of names. Thirtynames. He cleared his throat, then tilted his head to peer at his list through the lower portion of his bifocal lenses.
"Douglas Atwood," he said. "Raymond Andrew White. Lyman Baldridge. John Peter Garrity. Paul Goldenberg. John Mercer..."
I've made up the names. There's no record of the list, nor did Lewis Hildebrand recall any of the names the old man intoned. It was his impression that most of them were English or Scotch-Irish, with a couple of Jews, a few Irish, a handful that would have been Dutch or German. The names were not in alphabetical order, nor was there any evident scheme to them; he was to learn later that the old man had read their names in the order of their death. The first name read -- not Douglas Atwood, although I've called him that -- was the first man to die.
Listening to the old man, hearing the names echo against the room's wood-paneled walls like clods of earth falling on a coffin lid, Lewis Hildebrand had found himself moved almost to tears. He felt as though the earth had opened at his feet and he was gazing into an infinite void. There was a pause of some length after the reading of the final name, and it seemed to him that time itself had stopped, that the stillness would stretch on forever.
The old man broke it. He took a Zippo lighter from his breast pocket, flipped its cap, spun its wheel. He lit a corner of the sheet of paper and held it by its opposite end while it burned. When the flame had largely consumed the paper, he laid what remained in an ashtray and waited until it was ashes.
"You will not hear those names again," he told them. "They are gone now, gone to wherever the dead go. Their chapter has closed. Ours has just begun."
He was still holding the Zippo, and he held it up, lit it, and snapped it shut. "This is the fourth day of May," he said, "in the year 1961. When I first sat with the thirty men whose names I've read to you, it was the third of May and the year was 1899. The Spanish-American War had ended just ten months ago. I myself was twenty-three years old, just a year older than the youngest of you. I had not fought in the war, although there were men in the room who had. And there was one man who had served with Zachary Taylor in the war with Mexico. He was seventy-eight years old, if I remember correctly, and I sat and listened to him read the names of thirty men of whom I'd never heard. And I watched him burn those names, but of course he did so by putting a wooden match to the list. There were no Zippo lighters that day. And that gentleman -- I could tell you his name but I won't, I spoke it for the last time a few minutes ago -- that gentleman was twenty or twenty-five when he saw another old man set another list of names afire, and that would have been when? The early 1840s, I would suppose. Did they have wooden matches then? I don't believe they did. There would have been a fire on the hearth, and I suppose the fellow -- and I couldn't tell you his name if I wanted to -- I suppose he dropped the list into the fire.
"I don't know the date of that meeting, or where it took place. My first meeting, as I said, was in 1899, and there were thirty-one of us in a private dining room on the second floor of John Durlach's restaurant on Union Square. It's long gone, and so's the building that housed it; the site's occupied now by Klein's Department Store. When Durlach's closed we tried a different restaurant each year until we settled on Ben Zeller's steak house. We were there for years, and then there was a change -in ownership twenty years ago and we weren't happy. We came here to Cunningham's and we've been here ever since. Last year there were two of us. This year there are thirty-one."A Long Line of Dead Men. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I happen to enjoy Matt Scudder novels, but this one was particularly engaging for me. The idea behind the 'club' in this book was fascinating, and made me realize all over why I love Lawrence Block -- he's just a great writer! Although the series builds on previous books, each one can stand alone. If you're only going to read one, I heartily recomment this one.